Friday, July 1, 2016

Handicapper's Corner: Princess Rooney Handicap (G2)

Princess Rooney Handicap - Locals vs. Shippers

By: Laurie Ross, Iron Maidens Thoroughbreds

The Princess Rooney Handicap (G2) is a highlight on Gulfstream Park’s Summit of Speed day.  First created in the 1990’s, the Summit of Speed offers $1.125 million and two Breeders’ Cup Challenge events. 

The seven-furlong affair was named in honor of the Champion Older mare, Princess Rooney.  The race was first contested in 1985 at Calder Racetrack. Over the years, the contest rose to Grade One prominence, but was recently downgraded to a Grade Two event.

One of my fondest memories is of a spring day in May of 1982.  While watching the horses in the walking ring for an upcoming maiden event for two-year-old fillies, my eye landed on a pretty gray filly with the moniker of Princess Rooney. She was a real stand-out who exuded class and stood withers above the rest.  

At the start of the maiden race, Princess Rooney broke sharply. After leading the field through a brisk first quarter, the two-year-old filly opened up, widening her advantage with every stride.   

The track apron was littered with dropped jaws, including mine, as Princess Rooney swung into the stretch while the rest of the herd was struggling to to find the half mile pole. Princess Rooney returned to the winner’s circle to a burst of spontaneous applause by the crowd.  Many of us realized that we witnessed something special in the making and we agreed that Princess Rooney’s brilliance brought to mind the talent of Secretariat and Ruffian.  Princess Rooney won or placed in 20 of her 21 starts. She won the inaugural Breeders' Cup Distaff by seven lengths and was the first Breeders’ Cup winner to be inducted into the Racing Hall of Fame.

This year, eight fillies and mares will vie for an entry into the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint. The typical summer weather has set in. High humidity, with temps feeling like 105 degrees with mid-afternoon showers. Gulfstream has a good drainage system so the track should be good to fast by the time the fillies take their positions in the gate.

The Favorites:
BIRDATTHEWIRE (Summer Bird - My Limit, by Wagon Limit) ships in from Churchill for Dale Romans. No stranger to Gulfstream Park, Birdatthewire is a neck shy of a perfect record over the main track. Romans recently received the filly back into his barn. She won the LaBrea (G1) while in his care last December, but hasn’t been close to winning since that victory.  She’ll enter the Princess Rooney in her second start off of a layoff for Romans. The trainer captured the Princess Rooney ‘Cap in ’11 with Sassy Image.

SPELLING AGAIN (Awesome Again - Spelling, by Alphabet Soup) has really been mismanaged throughout her career. She has the pedigree to excel at classic distances over dirt, yet she’s been campaigned no farther than a mile over turf, Tapita and dirt. Perhaps part of the reason is that she wants to either lead or press the pace. Despite this, Spelling Again has hit the board in 13 of 19 starts. The Brad Cox trainee is certainly the class of the race. She’s been competitive with the Graded Stakes crowd lately and has hit the board in four of six of her last starts at that level.

CALI STAR (Street Cry (IRE) - Graeme Six, by Graeme Hall) was recently purchased by WinstarFarm and is a stablemate to Kiss to Remember. She won the Rampart (G3) here last December.  Toss Cali Star’s last race. She obviously didn’t like the track, and she stumbled after the race, losing jockey Irad Ortiz, Jr. Cali Star cuts back in distance, but she will sit off the pace and should be running at the end.

Logical Longshots:
KISS TO REMEMBER (Big Brown - Taft Lil Queen, by Irish Open) may remember kisses, but she has forgotten how to find the winner’s circle. Maybe she doesn’t like having her picture taken. The Chestnut mare has recently strung together a trio of second place finishes, all at a mile. She was third in the Princess Rooney last year, for trainer Marty Wolfson, but hasn’t won a race since July 2015. Wolfson has won the Princess Rooney Handicap four times, twice in the last five years.  

CONCEALEDWITHAKISS (Political Force - Bold Outlook, by Chief Seattle) is aiming for three straight victories. She takes a step up in class, but this isn’t the strongest field and it is a logical step.  Concealedwithakiss bested Kiss to Remember in their last two meetings.

MY MISS VENEZUELA (Hold Me Back - Multipass, by Olmodavor) won the Sea Lily Stakes in her first start off of a 3 ½ month layoff.  The six furlong contest is prep race for the Princess Rooney. My Miss Venezuela won by 2 ¼ lengths in 1:10.86, but her final 1/8 was in a slow 13.47. The Bruno Tessore trainee hasn’t managed to string together two back-to-back victories. Additionally, Emisael Jaramillo, who has been aboard for the last two starts, decamps in favor of Kiss to Remember, whom he’s never ridden.  

BE MIND PHIL (Philanthropist - Note to Self, by Notebook) and WILLOW HILLS (Distorted Humor - Pleasant Hill, by Pleasant Tap) round out the field.  Be Mind Phil is a hardy, optional claimer who hits the board more often than not. She’s moving up in company in her first start for trainer Jacob Molina.  Willow Hills is making her first start since last November for her new trainer, David Fawkes.  The mare has a string of steady breezes at Gulfstream, but Fawkes is only 9% with horses off of the layoff.

There is plenty of early speed in the Princess Rooney, however, the pace setters haven’t fared well in this race. In the last five years, four of the last five winners were third or farther back in the early stages. Most were pressers/mid-pack types, while one was a stalker.  Five horses in here have a good chance of hitting the board.

#1 CALI STAR (9-2)

$0.50 Super Box - #1, #4, #5, #7, #8 = $60
$2 WPS (4-1 or higher) #8, #5 = $6


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